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Funds sought for amateur sports, training facility study in south metro

What started 20 years ago as a drumbeat of needs for an amateur sports facility in the southern part of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, has in the words of Joe Atkins, become a “full brass band.”

A former representative, current Dakota County commissioner and Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission board member, Atkins is among elected officials supporting a bill to potentially help meet that demand not only for locals and other Minnesotans, but maybe international participants.

Sponsored by Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights), HF3483, as amended, seeks $750,000 in fiscal year 2023 so the sports commission “must partner” with Eagan and Inver Grove Heights to study the development of a United States Amateur Sports and Training Center in Dakota County.

“Right now, Minnesota is near the forefront for amateur sports and sports tourism in the country. … Simply put, a facility like what is being contemplated with the U.S. Amateur Sports and Training Center could well secure Minnesota’s spot as the best state in the nation for amateur sports and sports tourism,” Atkins said.

Added Inver Grove Heights Mayor Tom Bartholomew, “This study will go a long way to answer the questions we have, where it goes, who pays for it and all the other mechanics.”

Supporters say four primary reasons make the area ripe for the project: demand; location, including being sited minutes from the state’s largest airport and easy freeway access; the commission’s operating knowledge and success; and local support.

“We’re not asking you to take our word for how perfect the conditions are for creation of a U.S. Amateur Sports and Training Center in Inver Grove Heights/Eagan. You’re too savvy for that,” Atkins said. “We know you will want to see the business case, the feasibility analysis, and, frankly, so do we.”

A report due the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2023 would include a look at potential sites, local support, state and local economic impacts, financial sustainability, users, types of activity, and impact on existing private or government-sponsored facilities.

The bill was held over Thursday by the House State Government Finance and Elections Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion, but not without naysayers.

For example, Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia) believes the region that’ll see much economic development from the facility should be funding the development. He also asked if the local units of government have put together a joint powers agreement where they could fund the requested study.

“We’re very early in this process conceptually and, quite frankly, neither Mayor Bartholomew or I have done this before, so going about and taking on this feasibility study is something we have very little experience with. That’s why we’ve requested the funding come from the state for the work with the amateur sports commission,” said Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire, who emphasized the mayors were speaking for the region, not just their respective cities.

Local partners should have some preliminary “skin in the game” before seeking state money, said Rep. Jon Koznick (R-Lakeville), who, along with Nash, questioned the viability of a study from a partnership of the commission and the two communities.

“That seems to be a little bit of a conflict of interest, that folks would stand around and say, ‘Well, gosh, we sure want this so let’s write a report that says, yeah we need this.’” Nash said.

Concern was expressed that the facility could compete with the National Sports Center in Blaine, where, Nash said, state and local governments have made sizable investments.

Atkins said the idea is to supplement, not supplant, the 600-acre multi-sport complex in the northern suburb that includes more than 50 soccer fields and an eight-sheet hockey arena. “Most of the demand seems to be revolving around things like basketball, volleyball, swimming, which there is no comparative facility in Blaine.”

Sen. Zach Duckworth (R-Lakeville) sponsors the companion, SF3407, which awaits action by the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

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